Balmoral Hall School in Guatemala February 28, 2024

Posted in on February 28, 2024

Day 1

Balmoral High School students posing in front of Open Windows Guatemala

After two days of learning about Guatemalan culture during a busy weekend exploration, the group of Balmoral Hall students was ready to start working! There are 11 of them in total; all eager to help the Guatemalan children. Their bus to Open Windows Foundation arrived at 8:30 am, so the kids left their hotel, Casa Maria José, promptly at around 7:45, allowing them plenty of time to enjoy their breakfasts. Every day, they have been eating breakfast at Fernando’s, a restaurant with lovely staff, food, drinks, and of course, a cat. After finishing their meals, they exited Antigua and headed for the Guatemalan town, San Miguel Dueñas.

Upon arrival, they were greeted by Denis who gave us a tour of the Open Windows Foundation, and introduced them to his son and grandson, Marty and Johnathan, who will be helping the students with their work throughout the week. They also met the founder of Open Windows Foundation, Teresa, who was lovely. So much has changed since the last time a BH group was here! It’s nice to see all of the contributions BH has made over the years. The group was split into two; one team was given the job of cement-work on the new classrooms in progress, and the other re-painting well-worn classrooms and hallways.

Volunteers sifting sand Guatemala

The painting group spent the morning indoors, painting the ramp to the second floor yellow and one of the classrooms salmon. Outside, the other group shoveled and sifted sand to help mix mortar. A few students worked on demolishing some concrete on the side of the building, while others were learning how to assemble the bricks for the second floor of a school building by properly applying the mortar and making sure the bricks were level using different contraptions.

Volunteer and local child in school Guatemala

At lunch, the group met in the library to eat before children began filtering in. Classes commenced, and the outdoor group resumed their activities with some additional jobs on top, while the indoors group moved to the entryway to avoid distractions in classes, carefully painting around pre-existing murals to preserve them.

Finally, at 4:00 pm, the students wrapped up their work for the day and got back on the bus and returned to Casa Maria José for some time to recuperate and have dinner at Rainbow Café. The students are looking forward to continuing their work at Open Windows Foundation tomorrow morning!

Day 2

Student volunteer painting mural Guatemala

Our morning began at Fernando’s Cafe where we had our usual breakfast and coffee with Fernando’s newest kitten to entertain us with her antics. When we were finished, we bid Fernando a farewell and met our wonderful bus driver Leo who I have become quite close to with the help of some Spanish practice be the occasional translation app.

The bus ride from Antigua to San Miguel Dueñas is a scenic one, with Antigua surrounded by three volcanoes, one of which was active and “poofing” which was quite a sight. With Antigua’s cobblestone streets, the ride always starts off quite bumpy and it seems the more we drive on these roads the less we notice them.

As soon as we got to Ventanas Abiertas, we worked on digging out the drain pits on the side of the building. We finished the first one yesterday and today we finished digging the second one. We were working together, dividing the work between filling buckets with rocks, carrying the buckets to the wheelbarrow, and carrying the wheelbarrow to the sand pile. After finishing the second drain pit, we ate lunch and then went to the roof to mix mortar to prepare for brick laying. When we are in need of a break, we sit with a group of 10-11 year olds who have become quite fond of us and vice versa.

The kids were practicing drawing zigzags and parallel lines, and I went to talk to the girls I met yesterday – Their names are Mattel, Tiffany, and Maria. They remembered my name and they made a room for me. Also, they spoke slowly and repeatedly when I couldn’t understand what they were saying. After a few conversations, I went to the roof and started building the wall because the blocks were ready to go. But while I was working on that, suddenly I heard many voices calling my name from downstairs. At that moment, I thought this is why I came here!

There is one little girl in particular I have developed a soft spot for – her name is Dulce. Dulce and I share an intense love for animals and first bonded over a Spanish dictionary of animals. Dulce explained to me through rough translation that her favourite animals were ones that live in the cold, specifically penguins and she was ecstatic when I told her that I also loved penguins. Although it seems simple this small connection with this little girl reminded me that no matter where we come from, we are all human.

DWC volunteers sifting sand at Open Windows Guatemala

For tonight’s dinner we went to an incredible Italian restaurant. where we shared meals, laughter, and stories. We were very surprised at how amazing Italian food could be in Guatemala! After we finished eating, we had our nightly reflection where we discussed the events of the day and were given our question to reflect upon: “What was the most memorable moment of the trip so far?”. We talked about how sweet the kids were to both of us as well as how much kindness has been shown to us by the locals since day one. We wrapped up our night with a walk back to the hotel with a beautiful and clear view of the stars.

Alex and Minaho

Day 3

Cat on shoulder of local Guatemala

The days seem to just fly by during this trip, and today was no different. The day started off with a sleepy morning; I think I speak for everyone when I say that the hours spent labouring in the sun were finally catching up to us.

But morale was lifted during our daily breakfast at Fernando’s, as our excitement grew for the upcoming trip to EcoFiltro. EcoFiltro is a company based here in Guatemala that sells water purifying devices to families in need, both near and far. We toured their facility with the help of a guide, but not before we were fully equipped with safety gear including a hard hat and safety vest. We learned about the organization itself, as well as information about their products like how they’re made and how to use them. We even got to drink water filtered by one of their purifiers.

After this truly educational experience, we continued on to the worksite, Open Windows Foundation. Everyone got straight to work on their various jobs, either painting, mixing mortar, laying bricks, cutting rebar, along with many other activities.

After a hard morning of work out in the sun, lunch was served in the library, which was a nice break in the shade to cool off before the rest of the afternoon.

Volunteers working with electric drill Guatemala

At 1 o’clock, lunch was over, and everyone got back to work. Myself, along with a few others, drove to a home not too far from the school to help a family in need. A young mother developed a kidney condition after pregnancy, and was in need of a dialysis machine. We came to build the room this will take place in. We planned everything out, and got to work. Wood was measured and cut, nails were drilled, and in the end the frames for three of the walls were built.

Seeing the house and meeting the family that lived there was a major eye-opener, as it’s so different from life back home in Canada. The walls were ridden with termites, the roof had holes, and there were no windows. As someone who has never seen such poverty up close, it was shocking and forced me to truly realize my own privilege. I felt the intense desire to help them as best I could, which in this case was helping build this space for them, that would hopefully improve their quality of life.

School kids baking Guatemala

We drove back to the foundation for 4 o’clock, when our bus came to pick us up. We relaxed in our rooms for a while, before walking to a restaurant for dinner. We enjoyed food that was little closer to what we’d find at home, and walked back to the hotel for our daily reflection on the morality of EcoFiltro charging for their filters. We had an open discussion, and the general opinion was that water is a basic human right, but we understood that they needed to make money to keep helping people with their purifiers. A few ideas were presented to help provide these products to less fortunate families, like charging based off income. Overall, the day was filled with education, hard work, and really put into perspective that there is an entire world outside of Canada.


Worker walking through rows of pots Guatemala

This morning was like any other during our work week, I woke up with a mixed feeling of excitement and drowsiness both of which remained until breakfast at Fernandos a locally owned restaurant down the street. There I’ve experimented with as many different meals I can however, the crepe with salami and cheese isn’t far from my favourite. After breakfast some friends and I ran back to the hotel for a bit and then got picked up by Leo in the bus. Unlike the last 2 days, instead of going to work at the Open Windows Foundation, we went to EcoFiltro water purification plant for a tour around its headquarters located here in Guatemala. It took about 45 minutes and we learned all about its system and manufacturing. From there Leo the bus driver picked us up again and we went to Open Windows.

School kids baking Guatemala

There, we had a few minutes to explore around and wait for the work day to begin while the masons arrived. One of my fellow volunteers and I were in charge of experimenting with the baking process of a recipe for cookies that scholarship girls that attend Open Windows can sell. We wanted to test out which techniques worked best and what we would suggest the girls price said cookies at. That took the entire morning and so once that was finished we had lunch. As always it was nice and refreshing.

Balmoral students working with rebar Guatemala

 In the afternoon I was mostly working on laying brick. I layed around 8ish in total. Many breaks were needed because of the heat. During said breaks I took time to socialize a bit with the kids and do some other jobs like making more cement. After the work day was over, we were picked up by bus again and taken back home to our hotel. From there I showered and relaxed before dinner. For dinner we walked to a super good restaurant not far from the hotel. We ventured elsewhere for delicious desert and headed home. We finished the night with our daily reflection on the day, guided by a main question for us all to answer. That was my day!


Day 4

We had a great time bonding with the kids and meeting new people. We started the day by working at the worksite by tying the rebar, laying bricks, and bending rebar until we ran out. We then went on a walk to get more rebar to bend from the hardware store.

Then we went back and continued working until lunch came. We had a delicious meal that was spaghetti with meat sauce and chicken soup with lemonade with chia seeds inside. After our lunch break we went into the computer lab for 1 hour 30 mins and taught the grade 4 students how to code using scratch. They explored the different opportunities that Scratch had to offer such as tutorials. It was a great opportunity for us to bond with the kids by helping them with their codes.

We had to rely on google translate a lot to help us with this task. After the class ended we went outside to help on the roof when we were greeted by kids asking us to play soccer. We played with the kids until they had to go back to class. Once the day ended we went for a fantastic snack at Luisa’s house who is on the board of the Open Windows Foundation. We had tasty bread, cookies, chips, and drinks. We spoke with many people that are involved with Open Windows such as Cynthia and Elizabeth. After that we went to dinner at a traditional Guatemalan restaurant Sopas. A great day!

Day 5

Balmoral team on roof of Open Windows

On our final day of working at Open Windows Foundation, it was a day of final touch up’s and goodbyes. We finished up some of our tasks such as putting the last coats of paint, laying the final bricks, and tying the last of the rebar. While this was happening, part of the group went to go work on the sterile dialysis room. While there we put the ceiling onto the wood room, as well as drilling it into the floor. At lunch the whole group went on a walk in Dueñas to the dialysis room, as well as a house that previous BH service trips have built.

After lunch some students helped Mrs. Osborne teach the grade 5 and 6 class how to code on scratch; they used tutorials to explore scratch. When we arrived back at Open Windows we said our goodbyes to everyone, and had a wonderful performance from the kids, both singing and dancing. With a quick turn around from arriving back at the hotel, we were off to Fernando’s to learn how to make chocolate. The process started with tempering the chocolate, then we molded it, and added toppings to our own bars. We then all sat down for a wonderful dinner and dessert made at Fernando’s. For the final work night, rather than a reflection question, the teachers instead went around and highlighted our accomplishments throughout the work week.

To end the day we went to Fernando’s rooftop to get a view of an almost full moon, and an amazing Antigua. As our final day of work comes to an end, there were lots of emotions, and reflection on the week, both the good and the bad. Overall and amazing way to end a service trip, talking about all the memories and bonding we have made as a group.

Posted in on February 28, 2024